I see fingers, hands and shades of faces
Reachin’ up and not quite touchin’ the promised land
I hear pleas and prayers and a desperate whisper sayin’
Oh, Lord, please give us a helpin’ hand!
I see those fingers, hands and shades of faces, too, Jimi…I hear those desperate whispers. They haunt my dreams. They call out for succor, they pray for a release that never comes in time, they hold out for divine intervention, because no human has ever come to their aid. Jimi is a God to me, but then I have always been prone to worshipping idols. At least Jimi was benevolent. At least he shone a light on the Killing Floor, and looked towards those Castles Made of Sand that the sea washes away.
I often wonder what a capitalist society thinks it can spare for free? The clean water our bodies need to survive? Food so we don’t not starve? Medicine so we do not suffer? Shelter so we are safe from animals both human and inhumane? A campsite? A space on the sidewalk? Being allowed to keep our own belongings and not have those that have, thrown away or stolen by what the powers that be see as trash and clutter? One person’s trash is another person’s survival kit. A sign saying “Standing on the Corner” might be the difference between a smile and a tear. How much money is considered a baseline to deserve happiness? What are the homeless allowed? A flashlight. A spare blanket. Some clothes? A canteen for water that is clean? Some water to go into it that won’t poison or sicken? Apparently not according to San Francisco city which keeps on sweeping homeless people’s belongings and fighting clean water and sanitation provision for all. They won’t help, but then complain about the human shit on the streets.
When I was outside camping for years, I often was led to wonder just where people wanted me to go? My feet had to be on the ground somewhere.
How about the right to roam and wander if that is what floats your highway boat? How free are we? The ability to run from danger without a cop asking you if you are living in your vehicle like it is a crime should….which it indeed is within the boundaries of various states of unenlightenment. For instance, Minnesota bans overnight sleeping in a vehicle, with a maximum of 4 hours allowed to rest, no overnight stops, not even in rest areas. Meanwhile, the housed and on vacation, who can afford campgrounds, can stay an entire summer in their campers and vans, and do just that, setting up camps for weeks on end, and even bringing out their armchairs and sofas for the duration. If they were homeless all their belongings would be swept and removed from them and they would be moved on. In fact in Minnesota, having paid every single night for camping, being silent and good campers, some housed people called the cops on us. Cops came and wanted to know when we were leaving the campground. We had paid. Paying wasn’t good enough. Capitalist exceptionalism even removes the right to own property for those too poor and destitute to afford it. The sweeps in San Francisco target the sidewalk-living people and take away every they have left that they own, including the means of their survival. How can this even be legal, let alone conscionable?
As we walked together yesterday, having our day off together, me and the boy walked past a group of people living on top of a bridge. They had claimed the smallest of spaces that no one else could possibly want, it was neither in front of housing, or shop fronts. It was right next to the traffic in a way that was dangerous to them if a car sped out of control. There was another small group of tents on a center meridian, taking up a tiny strip of land that was there for decorative purposes, and to separate traffic. Instead, it had become the tinest request for a home plot that anyone could ever imagine. A postage stamp of San Francisco, a tiny footprint. It housed three tents, under the civic beautification project trees. I expect they will be swept out of there soon. Even so little appears to be too much to ask.
How little do we as a society expect people to accept? What is our bare minimum that as a country we are willing to allow people to have? Clean water campaigns for the homeless should never have to be set in motion, and yet, here we are.
On top of the bridge there was a woman shooting dope. A woman who should have been offered safe injection facilities and support. On top of the bridge a man checked his feet. Feet are a constant battle. Gotta get those boots off and those socks off and clean up. Feet deteriorate fast. On top of the bridge there was a small community that just wanted to keep their stuff, that just wanted to live and party, love and care and do all the things that housed people do. When housed people can get drunk and obnoxious, can party and get high in clubs and bars, but our unhoused fellow citizens are held to higher standards, and seen as not deserving live itself, unless they are perfect: clean, sober, polite, decent, faultless! Who amongst us in this dirty old world are faultless! Why is Keith Richards lauded for being a badass, while I am derided for being the author of my own misfortune?
So much of what separates people into housed and unhoused is sheer luck and privilege. I ended up unhoused because I had terrible luck, and what privilege I had failed to protect me. When I married a man who was not caucasian, and had children who were not white, there was a certain exile forced upon me. I was exiled from whatever ‘family’ remained, racist motherfuckers that they are, and due to the vagaries of luck and chance and abuse, ended up set adrift, apart, separates, and without help. People who have people do not end up on the streets. I had no people. So many people who are out there, from my very unscientific survey of memories of those people I have love and lost and known and never forgotten, have no family support. So many out there are the victims of abuse. The unhoused are victims of life, circumstance, poor family connections, and a society that says unless you are just like everybody else, you are not worth anything at all. Society prizes success. It is ok to be different and weird if fame and fortune have smiled upon your life. It is not ok to be different if you are down and out.
As for me, I adore my little one bedroom apartment, and the living room that I have made into my bedroom. I have dragged my bed into a corner, put some posters up on the walls and plugged in a nightlight and set it onto a table that was donated by a kind furniture company. There is a green sofa opposite me, also donated. Down the hallway is a bathroom, and a doorway that leads to the room I gave to my son. It is the first time he has had his own room. There is a kitchen with an oven. We have running water, hot and cold. We have heating. We have a door. We have safety.
I am still a freak. I still sit here shaking in fear of losing it all. I still sit here convinced that the world wants me dead, and let’s face it, it probably does. I have a false sense of security given to me by those double locks on the door. I sleep with my windows closed, no matter how hot it is. I still position myself at the very edge of the bed, as if I have no room to sleep at all. I still wake at any small noise, jumping to defend myself and the Boy. I am still playing the game of survival: the apartment has not changed that. I might not be out there on top of the bridge, trying to be a part of a small community that looked as if it was trying to survive as decently as possible, and had the air of a group of people that cared about each other, but my mind is stuck outside on the streets. I can’t stop filling gallon containers of water, just in case. I still stand in the shower and make myself remember the times where I was desperate to get clean , and had no way to do so. I still stand in the shower and remember the times I froze out there, or the one time someone had turned the thermostat up too high on a shower without temperature control and scalded me. I didn’t matter like a tourist. I was homeless. I remember the spiders, and the dingy concrete facilities that looked like they belonged in a 1970s horror movie, but spewed out tepid water and allowed me to feel human. I remember the nights in a tent where animals crawled about us outside. I remember those days in the parking lots and rest stops, that we were not allowed to sleep in.
There are basic human rights: sleep, food, water, privacy. When society puts a price on dignity and survival, what does that say about us as a group? A species? Down the alleyways, out on the corner, in the parking lots, on top of the bridge and under it, people are trying to live and the City is trying to make survival harder for them. I would wonder if The Man would prefer that those who do not fit in with society, who are not straight, white, male, successful, simply disappeared. The mantra of ‘not here’ when asked where we can go, will not suffice. The trickle of outrage is building as more and more people lose their housing. When shelter becomes big business, the basic human right to survive has a price put upon it’s head and it is increasingly out of reach for even those who do play the capitalist game.
Like Hendrix said: “Those people are so uptight, they sure know how to make a mess!” Look, man…we all need SOMEWHERE….even if it ain’t quite the promised land! Relax…giving other people the basics of living won’t mean that the privileged lose anything, except the warm glow of punishing those already suffering. Sick bastards.